Why didn't Indian media oppose Modi the way America is grilling Trump?

By Saif Ahmad Khan   @SaifAKhan |
 2016-02-11 17:19:06

When journalists are busy taking selfies with the PM instead of doing their job, we know that something is wrong.

Following Donald Trump's triumph in the New Hampshire primary, The Huffington Post's homepage read "NH (New Hampshire) goes racist sexist xenophobic." While some may argue that The Huffington Post's editorial stance on Trump's presidential campaign lacks journalistic objectivity, for others it just might be the right thing to do.

Elaborating on HuffPost's stance, CNN reported yesterday, "In late January, Huffington Post announced that all of its Trump-related articles would include an editor's note reading, 'Donald Trump is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist, birther and bully who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims - 1.6 billion members of an entire region from entering the US.'"  

American media outlets like HuffPost are justified in opposing Donald Trump. 

When fascism takes centre-stage, then objectivity lies in exposing the violent characteristics, tendencies of such leaders. HuffPost appears to be doing so. But for argument's sake let us consider as to what would have happened had the Indian media positioned itself against Narendra Modi in 2014 just like HuffPost and New York Daily Post have vis-a-vis Donald Trump.

The first question that needs to be addressed pertains to the credentials of Prime Minister Narendra Modi which make him eligible for a place in the league of extraordinary men besides the likes of Donald Trump. The answer is simple: Modi's incredibly racist track record. As chief minister of Gujarat, he failed to contain the largely anti-Muslim violence in his state. Thereafter, he made it a point to exploit the tragedy for electoral benefits by labelling refugee camps as "baby-producing factories".

For the next couple of years, Modi maintained silence regarding 2002 Gujarat riots and refused to apologise. Modi famously staged a walkout when confronted with tough questions regarding his anti-Muslim image by presenter Karan Thapar. In the run-up to the 2014 general elections, Modi did express sadness about what happened but he did so by comparing riot victims to puppies.

Those who were defending Modi by stating that his words were being misinterpreted should have asked themselves a simple question: Would Modi draw a similar analogy while paying homage to the karsevaks burnt onboard the Sabarmati Express? Had he done so, he would have lost the title of "Hindu Hriday Samrat". By comparing the death of riot victims with a puppy who comes underneath a car, Modi registered a new low in public discourse.

Today, a large section of the American media is fighting tooth and nail against Trump's candidature, but such a stern opposition was more or less absent in the case of Modi. In fact, what we witnessed was rather fixed interviews. India's TV's Rajat Sharma (Arun Jaitley's age-old companion) conducted an allegedly rigged interview of Narendra Modi which attracted a lot of eyebrows and led to the resignation of the channel's news editor QW Naqvi. Interestingly, when Modi became prime minister, Rajat Sharma was awarded with a Padma Bhushan.

It's been close to two years since Modi became prime minister but he is yet to give a single interview to an Indian news channel. On the other hand, he has spoken to a few domestic newspapers and agencies. In a private conversation with a senior correspondent of one such organisation, the journalist agreed that his organisation did not even put forth a single tough question to Modi and that it was a matter of great shame.

When journalists are busy taking selfies with Modi instead of doing their job, we know that something is wrong for sure. Probably, they should learn some lessons from the British media who made Modi sweat during a joint press conference involving British Prime Minister David Cameron in November last year.

Unfortunately, the social media has been hijacked by the right wing. Any sane voice which opposes the notion of Hindu majoritarianism, or criticises Modi sarkar, is abused and intimidated. One must try writing an objective critique of Modi and publishing it on a website with decent readership. Within minutes the writer's Twitter feed will be full of Hindutva army's illogical objections and personal threats.

Ask Al Jazeera presenter Mehdi Hasan about Hindutva trolls. Shortly after Al Jazeera aired his interview with BJP's Ram Madhav, the usual abuse unfolded. "I've done 30 odd @AJHeadtoHead interviews with guests from around the world over past 3 years. But never had a Twitter response like this," tweeted Mehdi Hasan. He added that "over the past 48 house, Hindu nationalist trolls have tried to smear me as a closet Islamist, a Pakistani and an ISIS supporter."  

He even said that "the past 48 hours of abuse have taught me that EDL's (English Defence League), Likud's (Israeli right wing party) and Trump's supporters have got a lot to learn from the 'Hindutva' crowd online."  What has happened in India over the last two to three years has lessons for the entire world. The domestic media did not aggressively question Modi's past antics. Acquittal by the Supreme Court doesn't take away the media's right to question.

When journalists question Narendra Modi, they are dubbed "presstitutes". 

Shouldn't the media have asked Modi how he went from using barbs like "hum paanch humare pachees" (directed towards Muslim riot victims whom Modi likened with baby-producing factories) to using slogans like "Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas" (Together with all, development for all)? The media didn't ask such questions allowing Modi to comfortably assume power.

Today, when journalists question Modi sarkar when one of their ministers says something atrocious, they face an online backlash because the Hindutva trolls seem to think that they enjoy absolute power. They can call anybody a "presstitute" and force respected journalists like Ravish Kumar to abstain from using social media.

American media outlets like HuffPost are justified in opposing Trump. Maybe it is possible to do so today because tomorrow if Trump ends up in Oval Office then who knows what will happen because that would be an America with a difference. 

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